‘Move it or lose it’

Movement is Medicine, a research-based participatory wellness awareness program exclusive to residents of Brookdale Senior Living communities, is helping residents embrace the benefits of physical activity.

The program details choices to help older adults achieve the physician-recommended 30 minutes of moderate activity almost every day, and is flexible enough to appeal to and work for residents at any level of care. Originally pioneered in Brookdale’s independent living communities, Movement is Medicine evolved into a program offered to every resident as a Movement is Medicine exercise program. It has been implemented in all Brookdale communities-independent living, assisted living, Alzheimer’s/dementia care, and skilled nursing.

Kevin W. O’Neil, MD, FACP

Kevin W. O’Neil, MD, FACP, a specialist in internal medicine and geriatrics and medical director of Optimum Life® for Brookdale Senior Living, champions the program.

“The goal of Movement is Medicine is to stress the importance of movement to residents and associates, and motivate them to increase participation,” Dr. O’Neil says. “By achieving this goal, residents will benefit by having more control over chronic disease and gain overall improved health. This program is an extension of our mission to ‘enrich the lives of those we serve.’ No other single life change is capable of impacting so many areas of health and wellness as moderate activity every day.”

Once implemented into all communities, the program quickly began producing impressive results and success stories. Communities of all types, including skilled nursing centers, have anecdotes to share.


“I have seen an increase in participation of residents who did not typically attend the morning exercise session,” says Mary Ellen Layman, senior life enrichment coordinator for Homewood Residence at Richmond Heights, a Brookdale assisted living and skilled nursing center in Ohio. I am so pleased to see residents coming to Movement is Medicine sessions for their own individual reasons. Being a healthy person is a personal choice, and I am happy to be a part of their journey to becoming a healthier person.”

“About half of the residents attend the Movement is Medicine,” reports Rosemarie Thomas, director of lifestyle programs for Westbury Care Center, a Brookdale Alzheimer’s/dementia care and skilled nursing community. “We now hold the program seven days a week-up from five-and we hold it right after breakfast.”

Tie to Optimum Life

Movement is Medicine complements Brookdale’s Optimum Life concept. Optimum Life is exclusive to Brookdale Senior Living communities, and is a lifestyle where whole person wellness is achieved through fulfillment in six key dimensions of wellness-physical, emotional, purposeful, social, spiritual, and intellectual.

“Our Movement is Medicine session each day really does touch on many of the dimensions of Optimum Life,” Layman says. “Primarily, residents benefit from the social aspect of participation. We talk about what we have planned for the day, events in the news, and more. No matter how they enter the group, they leave with a smile on their face.”

In addition, many communities exercise residents’ minds as well during the program. “After we exercise, we do something such as trivia or a word game,” Layman says. “This helps to get residents’ bodies moving for the day, as well as their minds-affecting the intellectual dimension.”

“Residents are rewarded during the program by selecting the next exercise,” Thomas explains. “This activity uses cognition. We also incorporate counting skills into many of the exercises to keep our minds moving.”

“On an emotional level, residents benefit as well. At the end of each session, we hug ourselves and say, ‘I love me!’” Layman says. “I believe residents feel good about themselves because they attended the session, and they did something good for themselves.”


A resident of Westbury Care Center shared that if she misses the Movement is Medicine activity it has an impact on pivoting and transferring. Activity makes her legs stronger, she says, and when she participates regularly, she doesn’t feel as if she is declining as quickly.

In addition, nurses and therapists at the community concur that this resident has more balance, endurance, and needs less help with her activities of daily living.

“Movement is Medicine is an exercise program that can really help residents with stamina,” says Mary Jackman, lifestyle program director for independent living at The Summit Westlake Hills in Austin, Texas. To complement the Movement is Medicine activity, Jackman added a 15-minute free weight-lifting session. “Many residents are excited they have built themselves up from using a 1-pound to a 2- or 3-pound weight in each hand,” Jackman says. “One participant is now using 5 pounds-not bad for an 89-year-old who was only able to lift one pound before.”

When Westlake Village’s skilled nursing center started the Movement is Medicine exercises, one resident in particular had a lot of trouble. She is bound to a wheelchair, and could not move her arms around very well. When Activities Director Amy Carlson would toss a ball to the resident during class, she would have trouble catching it, and was unable to throw it back.

Carlson has been working with this resident twice a week since mid-March. She is now able to move her arms and head around much easier and can catch, throw, and bounce the ball back to Carlson easily. They have also recently been working on her legs, and the resident is progressing.

“The best part about this is how much she enjoys the activity,” Carlson says. “When she first started, she would frown at me and not want to do it. Now, she smiles and laughs.”

Perhaps the best testament of all is from The Summit at Westlake Hills. There, residents who are going away on vacations or are moving out have asked Jackman to make a videotape of the exercises so they can continue them wherever they go.

Movement is Medicine has proven to be an influential program that is well-received by residents. Many successes have occurred and continue to occur through this program.

“Regular fitness activities benefit not only the body, but also the mind, heart, and soul,” Dr. O’Neil asserts. “Movement can help protect the brain, reduce the risk for cognitive decline, and help maintain one’s emotional equilibrium. ‘Use it or lose it’ is a common expression. Equally true is, ‘Move it or lose it.’”

Holly Botsford is the Public Relations Manager for Brookdale Senior Living, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She can be reached at (414) 918-5314 or hbotsford@brookdaleliving.com.

To send your comments to the editor, e-mail mhrehocik@iadvanceseniorcare.com.

Long-Term Living 2009 September;58(9):32-33

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